Sunday, November 18, 2012

I may be following this logic long after I turn 22...

Time to start our research

Last week, BG and I spent the day with Maasai families for our Kenya home stay. This was a much different experience than the home stays in Tanzania for multiple reasons. In Tanzania, the family spoke pretty good English and communication was fairly easy. Here in Kenya, our Maasai mama spoke Kimaasai and a little bit of Kiswahili so we used a lot of hand signals to communicate. The first task that we had to do was fetch water for the family, which the mama told us about by asking “Unapenda maji?” (Do you like/want water?). After realizing what she was trying to say, we grabbed the water jugs and started walking. It took about 20 minutes to get to the creek and then mama filled the jugs with water and made sure we stayed away from the creek like the few inches of water was able to sweep us away. After she filled the jugs, we tied fabric around the handles and positioned the fabric on our heads like headbands with the water resting on our backs. So now I can say that I have carried water on my head with a Maasai mama. And I made it all the way back to the home with it on my head! Needless to say, I was pretty proud of this accomplishment. We also got to play with the baby girl of the family (she was only six months old) and the kitten and puppy that the family had until I saw the puppy had fleas and decided petting him was a bad idea. The rest of the day we drank a lot of tea, made bracelets, helped prepare cabbage and ugali (a staple African food made with ground corn and looks like mashed potatoes) and ate lunch with our hands, helped to build a house in the rain by putting sticks in the siding that will be covered with cow dung, and set up to make charcoal by gathering goat poop and dirt with our hands and spreading it on logs. 

Our Maasai mama, 4 of her 6 children, BG and I.

Yesterday we finished exams and got assigned our Directed Research topics. I was put into the Wildlife Ecology group and we will be studying the water quality of the Noolturesh river that people and wildlife use every day. This was my top choice and I am so excited to start this project and hopefully learn new ways to extract water from the rivers in a more sustainable way. The first task is a group project proposal which we are to research the topic and make a plan for the next few weeks of research.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

rhinos and baby elephants!

About a week ago we got back from our second expedition. This time we went to Lake Nakuru National Park. This is a park that is based around Lake Nakuru that was filled with cichlid fish which attracted a variety of fish-eating birds. Within the fenced park there are also rhinos, a lot of buffalo, lions, zebra, giraffes, baboons, colobus monkeys, a variety of ungulates and other animals. Here I got to see quite a few black and white rhinos for the first time since I have been to Africa. This trip was a lot like the Serengeti: full of learning about the park and animals within and lots of game driving time. Yet, there was a big difference: it rained every day that we were in Nakuru, marking the beginning of the short rainy season in Kenya. Yet, we were up for game driving in rain or shine. We put our rain coats on and headed out to see some wildlife.
For a few weeks now we have known that going to an elephant orphanage in Nairobi is a possibility and I was hopeful that this fantasy of seeing baby elephants up-close could come true. The day that we left the park we had a chance to go to the elephant orphanage called David Sheldrick’s Wildlife Trust if we were ready in time and if there wasn’t too much traffic when passing by Nairobi. So after our 6am breakfast, we all rolled our sleeves up to hurriedly pack our hostel into the Rhino (the truck that carries all kitchen supplies and suitcases on expeditions) and head out of Nakuru. The orphanage is open to the public from 11am-noon, so it all depended on the traffic whether we would make it on time. The whole ride there, I sat in the front of the car excitedly biting my nails as the others in the car kept repeating that there was no way that we would make it. After what felt like an eternity of zigzagging in and out of traffic, we turned off the main road and yes, we were heading to the elephant orphanage!
Our car got there at 11:15, so I ran through the parking lot to the place where we can see the elephants eating and hear one of the handlers talk about the history of the orphanage. The orphanage’s objective is to take in young elephants that have lost their mothers and raise them until they are old enough to be released into the wild and join another herd of elephants. There were about 15 elephants there munching on tree branches and being oh so very cute. The baby elephants were so perfect and wrinkly! Then one walked towards the fence that separated them from us and we were able to touch their wrinkly goodness! They were surprisingly rough and had wiry hairs that scratched my hand. I was so happy and fortunate to be able to touch one of the most amazing animals in Africa.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Mt. Kilimanjaro

A couple pictures that I took of the tallest free-standing mountain in the world, which happens to be practically in my backyard:

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Greetings from Kenya!

Our time in Tanzania ended in a whirlwind of events, lots of smiles, a few tears and an Iraqw farewell prayer. The last 7 weeks have gone by in a wonderful flash and I have gained lifelong friends and memories at the Moyo Hill Center of Tanzania. And even though I left Tanzania, I was able to travel with 29 of the most amazing people to Kenya and begin a whole new journey.
The Kilimanjaro Base Camp in Kenya is much different than Moyo Hill for all the right reasons. This camp is much bigger and in a more rural area. This means there is more wildlife around including snakes (yes, the poisonous ones), scorpions, lizards and baboons. The baboons think they own the place and can be seen walking around the camp any part of the day and like to hang out on the front porch of my banda (cabin). The bandas don’t have bathrooms here so there is a short walk to the toilets and showers. The best part of the showers is that on clear days there is a beautiful view of Mt. Kilimanjaro (pictures to come). The Kenyan staff is equally friendly and welcoming as the Tanzanian staff. They also help us practice our Swahili.
One of the first few days in Kenya was Halloween! Even though it isn’t celebrated in Africa, we made a celebration of our own. The afternoon started with costumes and I went with a ghost costume made with a white sheet and two eye holes. It was fun to see what costumes we made with the little clothes and supplies we brought to Africa. We carved pumpkins, trick-or-treated to each other’s bandas and had a costume contest. Even though the local staff thought we were weird, it was a fun holiday.
From the first week in Kenya, i can tell I am going to like it very much here!

Sunday, October 28, 2012

The beauty of the Serengeti

There is only one word to describe a 5 day camping trip in the Serengeti: unreal. We drove for about 7 hours and after a few rest stops we arrived in the Serengeti with sleeping bags, tents and headlights and not knowing what to expect. Part of the drive was spent game driving through the Serengeti towards the campsite. Game driving includes lifting the top of the land cruiser so we can stand up and look for animals in the bush. On the way to the camp we saw zebra, Thompsons and grant’s gazelle, impala, buffalo and some lions lounging under trees. Once at the camp, we pitched the tent which proved more difficult than it sounds. We used large tents that held five people and our s had some difficulty: we ripped the fabric by staking the wrong part to the ground, the zipper was broken and one of the poles was missing. After overcoming these slight problems, we had our home for the next few nights.
            The next few days included a lot of sun, animals, laughter and reflection. Being in such a beautiful and serene place makes me think about how fortunate I am to experience this as it is something that can’t be described in words or pictures. Seeing a leopard sleeping on its belly on a tree branch with all four legs hanging off, watching hippos roll around in mud pools, listening to the heavy footprints of elephants as they slowly walk past, witnessing a serval take two graceful hops into the tall grass to come out with a rodent, staring into the beautiful colors of the sunset, sharing this time with some great friends and lots of laughter, these are all things that are too good to put into words. 

Monday, October 15, 2012

Funky kuku!

Jump for joy like the Maasai

This Tuesday we visited a Maasai Manyatta, which is a Maasai village that is set up to display their culture to tourists. We were greeted with a traditional welcoming ceremony that included singing, chanting, jumping, and dancing. The Maasai were dressed in shukas and lots of beaded jewelry, which they let us try on and join in on the dancing. Then we were shown how to make a fire with just two pieces of wood (one of a hard acacia and one of a soft acacia), donkey dung and dry brush. Next we were able to ask some questions about their culture. Of course we had to write a paper about the visit so we drilled the chief’s son about his tribe. After that we got a tour of their mud huts. Finally we were able to look at jewelry to buy. It was interesting to see how a tribe has had to participate in tourist activities and can no longer survive on their traditional pastoralist practices. This tribe does still have livestock, but the manyatta brings in much more money. This just shows that Africa is changing and unfortunately the tribes must also change and modernize.

On Wednesday we had a travelling lecture to see how local people were living sustainable lives. The first stop was to a primary school that had its own farm and chicken coup. They also grew trees that students could take home and villagers could buy to plant and reduce soil erosion and increase biodiversity. The school with over 800 students is able to do this solely because of the donations from a lodge owner. Yet, the students are learning all about conservation. Next we went to visit Mama Danielle (yes, I found another Danielle in Africa!) at her home, where her family uses biogas. Biogas is the utilization of products from cow dung in order to light her stove for cooking. It is a stinky process, but she is able to have a gas burner to cook food on instead of the typical coal burning fire that is of course terrible for the environment. Last we went to a brick making factory that also saves coal and wood by compacting bricks with a machine instead of cooking them. All of these conservation techniques are quite expensive, but local communities do support people to use them and help with some of the costs.

That afternoon we had community service at the Rhotia Primary School. Here we read stories, played games and worked on building a concrete wall for their new kitchen. The children are so sweet and love playing with the wazungu (what they call white people/tourists).

Saturday I spent the whole day with a local family and one other student. The father of the family works at the Shirt Shack, a local store that sells shirts and souvenirs to tourists, so they are wealthier than most other families. I spent the day with another student, Max, Mama Pascal, Francis (20 yrs old), Valentina (16), Martin (13), Veronica (6) and some other children that were visiting for the day. All of the children and even Mama knew pretty good English, so we were able to communicate pretty well and learn some Swahili along the way. We started the day with tea and bread. Then we started making the lunch that we brought: meat, rice, ugali, cabbage and some vegetables. Mama and Valentina made the lunch and Max and I helped by cutting vegetables and stirring the food while it cooked over coals or a fire. It was so amazing to see how much Vale helped around the house... She knew how to cook, do laundry, wash dishes and was a great hostess. After doing some chores we watched some tv and African music videos. This day taught me a lot about the values of being a family and every member helping out. Also, it was great to see such happy people that worked so hard and still had a smile on their face. 

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

On top of the world!

Except for the many misquito bites spotting my skin, there really is nothing I can complain about here. It is sunny and getting warmer every day 

On Wednesday we had a travelling lecture on top of Kilimatembo (Elephant Mountain) and we got a short lecture from each of our classes. The view from on top of this hill was incredible! Even though it is called Kilimatembo, unfortunately there are no longer any elephants on the hill. Then we went to an acacia forest and just got to walk around and explore the area. We got to see one of the “small five” animals, a lion ant which is a little bug that digs holes in the dirt to catch ants and eat them.
Thursday we had wildlife ecology and Swahili class throughout the day.  Then there was an assignment due for environmental policy in the evening.
Then we went to Ngorongoro Crater on Friday and we got to go on a safari without an assignment to do at the same time! We just sat for a short lecture by one of the men working at Ngorongoro Conservation Area. Here we saw more zebras and wildebeest. We also saw cape buffalo, ostriches, reed bucks, gold crested cranes, ververts, a rhino and lions. At the beginning there was a reed buck giving birth really close to the road. A lot of tourists were stopped in front of it so all we saw was the baby after it was born. I was really excited to see a rhino even though it was lying down and super far way. Then the lions were awesome! One of them was so close to the road and she was so pretty!

On Saturday we went bird watching in the forest area of Rhotia. We saw a lot of birds and then stopped on the cliff to see an amazing view of the whole valley. It was mainly open landscape and farms. It is still so different to see such a large space of land without a huge city in the middle of it. I felt like I was on top of the world up on this cliff. I have come to realize that some things like this view can not be described with words or even a picture. A person has to experience it for themselves to get the full idea about how beautiful Africa is.

The next day we had another non-program day which we spent going to markets in Karatu and Mto Wa Mbu (misquito river). Here we just got some trinkets from the stores and did some bargaining for them. There was this wood shop that we went to at Mto Wa where the men make the wood carvings (animals and bowls and other stuff) made out of rosewood and ebony by hand with just chisels and knife. We also got to go to a monthly market in Karatu which was so energetic! It is a local market with thousands of people trying to buy and sell various clothing, food, and other items that lay on tarps on the ground.
Monday we had another travelling lecture to Mto Wa Mbu. We learned about the farming practices of people in the town and how they interact with wildlife. Also that there are just 3 perrenial rivers in the area that flow into Lake Manyara which causes people and wildlife to cram into the area. This becomes a problem as populations continue to grow.
All in all it was a good week and great way to end the first month that I have spent in Tanzania.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Happy Days in Tz

This past week we have been busy, busy, busy with class work! We had three assignments due in three days. Two of them were papers for Wildlife Ecology and another was a paper for Swahili. Yes, we had to write a paper all in Swahili. Granted mine was only half a page and it was a lot of greetings and descriptions of where I come from and where I am staying in Tanzania. But still, we are going so fast in that class! 

Besides classes, we have been playing a lot of cards and keeping ourselves busy in the center with other random games. The other students and I are getting along smashingly. I love hanging out with so many people with common interests as me. We are all very passionate about science, specifically animals and the environment. 

On Sunday we had a non-program day and we got to sleep in! Then we chose between going to Kudu lodge where we can swim or Happy Days, which is a restaurant. I chose Happy Days and the only people there were us students and the staff of the restaurant, including Nix the owner of the place. It was a lot of fun to just relax and not worry about classes and assignments. And I got a burger, yum! Here's a picture of us at Happy Days:

After we got back from Happy Days and Kudu lodge a few of us sat in the campfire area and just talked. It's feels good to know that after only a few weeks I have made some amazing friendships here in Africa. Here's one of the cheesey happy pictures some of the girls took out in the campfire area:

Oh and last night it started to sprinkle a bit and it made me miss Oregon rain. I never thought I would have been caught saying that.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012


This is one of the local children, Teddy. She is very social and loves hanging around us and playing with us when we walk past her house and go into town.

Another week has flown by in Africa!

Tuesday-Saturday we had classes, classes, classes. We are learning A LOT of Swahili and a lot about Tanzania policy. As well as different field study practices that can be used in ecological research.
Sunday we had a day off and went into the town of Mto Wa Mbu, which has a large market where we could buy souvenirs and jewelry. There were a lot of little shops and as you walk down the path in between them, the men working in the shops are all trying to welcome you to come into their shop instead of the one next door. I got to practice my bargaining skills as it is expected here that you don’t buy anything for the original price that they tell you. This can get really overwhelming, but it is exciting when you get something for the price that you are fighting for. Then we went to a pizza shop and got some yummy pizza!

That day, the power was shut off in the whole country of Tanzania because energy is supplied by a dam which is running low right now. So the government just randomly shuts the power off whenever it needs to be. What I thought was so surprising is that everything still runs smoothly when this happens and everyone is so used to this. If the power was shut off in Oregon for a day, people would be so mad! But here, it is totally normal.

Today we went on a safari at Tarangire National Park, which is over 2000 km2. There were sooo many animals here! We mainly saw elephants, zebras, wildebeests, impalas, giraffes and warthogs. Our car also got to see 4 lions that we needed binoculars just to see. Our driver, Nina, saw them sitting under a tree where we would never have seen them otherwise.  After the safari, we stopped at the lion research station where our program director, Dr. Kissui, has worked for almost 10 years studying the prides of lions in the national park.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Week One

I have been at the Moyo Hill center for a week now and I have already done so much! We started classes and already have a few assignments, but they involve going on safaris and observing animals so I can’t complain at all.

Monday- Friday consisted of classes and getting to know the area, center and other students.  We are already learning a lot of Swahili and can talk to the local people a little bit.
We have been able to walk around Rhotia a lot and see many locals. When the children saw us, they ran over and asked to get their pictures taken. They even liked to take pictures of each other and look at those. They are all so sweet!

Saturday and Sunday we went to Lake Manyara National Park and that was amazing! The first day we drove around and I was working on two assignments: A list of 10 mammals for my Wildlife Management class and gathering research for 2 research papers for my Wildlife Ecology class. We drove through a cool woodland area with pretty streams and incredible trees that seemed a little like a rain forest. Through the woodland, we saw a few elephants, lots of baboons, blue monkeys, vervet monkeys and some cool birds. And I even got to see my favorite bird, the Kingfisher. Then we stopped at a hippo pool, but we didn’t see any hippos on Saturday. Finally we drove closer to the lake, which is a salt lake and is covered by thousands of flamingos. That is when we saw zebras, cape buffalo, wildebeests, and giraffes.
On Sunday we drove through the same woodland, but our assignment was to watch baboons for 2 hours and record what they were doing every 5 minutes. It is really interesting to watch how social they are. And the baby baboons are soo cute! Then we went to the hippo pool again and saw the hippos relaxing in the sun next to the water, they are so big!
Then today, we went on a hike to Elephant Cave and saw where the elephants dig caves into a hill with their tusks so that they can eat the soil that is packed with nutrients including Iron and Potassium. After the hike we went to a market in Karatu and got to bargain for some souvenirs.

African sunset

A glimpse of the beautiful sunset from right outside the Moyo Hill camp:

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

3 days!

The purpose of this blog is to keep track of the countless memories and activities that I expect to happen during the next three months and share them with friends and family. I don't typically keep journals of the things I do, so I'm completely new to this. Here goes nothing...

As I get closer to my departure, I am getting more and more excited to start this adventure of a lifetime in a whole new place. I have had a great summer filled with lots of fun and new friends that just flew by and now I can't wait for something completely new and different from anything that I have ever done. I am also soaking in as much of home while I still can. Right now, I am struggling to grasp the fact that I will be leaving the country in less than three days now. Since I have never been out of the continent, this will be a wild experience for me!

Here's a summary of what I will be doing while I'm away: I will be taking four classes while I'm in Tanzania: Techniques of wildlife Management, Wildlife Ecology, Environmental Policy and socioeconomic values, and Intro to Swahili and East African Tribal Communities. And then perform a related research project in Kenya. We will be given questions to choose from and base our research project on that are related to what we learned in the classes. We will also go on safaris and excursions throughout the semester.

Email is the best way to keep in touch, but if you want to send a letter, my address will be:

Student Name
SFS Center for Wildlife Management Studies 
P.O. Box 304
East Africa

and my email address is